"Russ is still kick-back, relaxed and funny like he was before, but he's so much more mature now," said Manumaleuna. "He's a lot more happy I think, and he has his goals and he's doing everything he can to achieve those goals. He's a great example to me and everyone on the team now."
With just one year remaining to play college football, Tialavea's goals have gone from being largely selfish to completely unselfish.
"I want to show the younger players on this team the right way to do things," said Tialavea. "It took me almost seven years to go about things the right way here and I don't want any of these guys to take as long as I did because they'll be so much better and happier if they learn it early on. That's my biggest goal now."
Of course Tialavea also aims to contribute as best he can on the field of play. After shedding quite a bit of weight from his early days, he looks well on his way after sitting out spring due to injury.
"I'm starting to remember stuff — getting my hands into the right position and all that stuff — it's feeling more natural every day," said Tialavea. "I played at almost 330 early on in my career, but playing at around 270-275 feels much better. I feel I'm quicker than I've been and hopefully I can really help the team this year."
"He looks really good," added Mendenhall. "He's fast, he's quick, he's agile and he works so much harder than he ever did prior to his mission. He's a good leader, he's positive in the locker room. He was always a good football player, but now he's impressive (all-around.)"
Tialavea has started every year that he's been in a Cougar uniform, but will largely be playing a backup role as the fourth rotating defensive lineman behind fellow seniors Ian Dulan, Romney Fuga and Manumaleuna. It's a role he's more than happy to fulfill.
In fact, Tialavea is happy about most everything these days. While not wanting to share much of anything with anyone in the past, he's anxious to share his story with everyone — anxious to share his happiness.
"Before I'd question and not really understand anything that coach Mendenhall said or did," said Tialavea. "Now I completely understand why he does the things he does and why he's the way it is. I'm just mad that it took me seven years to get there. But the important thing is that I did get to the point I'm at now, I guess."
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